That’s the question I’ve been asking myself and likely you have too if you saw or watched the NBC News Report last week, which linked more than 30 cases of cancer among soccer players to the fact that they played on artificial turf. My kids are still in elementary school and don’t play on artificial turf very often now. But if they stick with soccer as I suspect that they will, they will be on it a lot. Perhaps several hours a day, several times a week. And my son — who I know will play some sort of field sport as a middle or high schooler — will play not just on my town’s turf, but on neighboring towns’ too, as artificial turf is becoming more and more popular across the country. And like the players in the NBC story, he will come home with the tire crumb in his uniform, in his hair, and even in his belly after ingesting it during a big play/tackle/save/what have you. And all I can think is, That’s it. He’s not playing any field sports!
Oh, I know that is not rational thinking. And I realize the many wonderful benefits there are to playing a sport. But as a mother, the stories of those goalies with cancer are just as compelling and frankly, they are so scary that I just couldn’t put it in the same bucket with all those other Many Things Out There We Parents Can’t Control. I kept coming back to this simple question: What if in 10 years my son is diagnosed with cancer and I KNEW this information and yet I did nothing? How could I live with myself?
To get some perspective, I went to an expert in pediatric environmental health: Joel Forman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. He brought me off the ledge, a bit. He points out that we’ll never be able to prove that the goalies’ cancers were caused by the artificial turf. But we’ll also never be able to prove that they aren’t. “There are just so many gaps in the data as to what the long term affects might be,” he says. “We just don’t know. We’ll probably never know.” And it’s not just that we won’t know about cancer, he notes. We likely won’t ever know for sure if any of other multitude of chemicals in the turf cause any other problems in our kids, either.
Okay; not so reassuring. But as parents, we can be more aware. First of all, it’s important to know what type of artificial turf your child is playing on (or will play on in the future). The surface that is under scrutiny here is “tire crumb” or “crumb rubber”. It’s basically a surface that is made up of used tires with fake grass coming out of it. (The grass itself used to be made with lead — thankfully, that is no longer the case.) Tire Crumb is a popular choice in fields across the country because as you can imagine, there are a lot of old tires out there that could otherwise be taking up space in landfills. The trouble though, as Dr. Forman points out, You don’t know where those tires have been. “Think of all these tires running around on different vehicles collecting pollution, exhaust. The list of chemicals in those tires is just so long.” (You can see the list here collected by the EPA; some of which are known carcinogens and/or have been linked to cognitive delays or other problems in children.)
The best thing to do? Replace the crumb rubber with a substance we do know more about. Coconut husks. Cork. Sand. Even plastic. New York City uses a turf called SandFlex (the city banned crumb rubber infill in their fields in 2008.) And the NFL is using a substance called TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) which is basically plastic and new rubber (not recycled tires). While Dr. Forman points out that none of them have been studied either, this is what convinced me: “At least you know what you’re getting. You don’t have this long list of compounds like you do with used tires.”
Replacing the turf in your town or school’s field may not be easy to do. Especially if your town just built a gorgeous new field made with crumb rubber infill like a lot of communities have. But if they haven’t, suggest that they look at alternatives. And perhaps even if they have. After all, I would hate to have to look my son in the eye one day and say Yes, we knew about this. We all talked about it for days, weeks. It totally went viral back in the day. But we didn’t do anything about it.
We’ve covered charity birthday parties in the pages of Parents a lot. Moms seem to always be looking for ways to throw parties for their kids that will benefit others less fortunate whether it be roll-up-your-sleeve events that allow kids to do charity work at the actual shin-dig or ones that allow guests to donate to a cause in lieu of buying gifts. Perhaps it’s the extravagance of the modern kid’s birthday party that gives us this tug to give back — we all know what a first world problem it is to have to choose between the Ice Skating Princess party and the Make Cupcakes At the Local Bakery Party. And the fact that every kid comes home with a dozen new toys that she definitely doesn’t need (or sometimes even want). But trying to suggest that your kid donate those gifts is a hard sell. Last year I suggested that my daughter Madelyn, then 7, ask her friends to donate to a special cause instead of bringing gifts. She understood it was a nice thing to do. But she couldn’t give up the gifts.
So this year I tried a new tactic. Madelyn just got a puppy (see pic) for her birthday from a rescue organization. What if we asked your birthday guests to give a donation to FurBabies where we got Blue? As much as she loved the idea of giving to other puppies like her own, she was still hesitant. So I’d get no gifts? she asked. Well, you’d get gifts from Grannie and Grandpa … Hmm. She couldn’t pull the trigger. Then I learned of a website called Share Your Wish that allows her to do both: Get donations to charity AND get a gift of her own. It’s quite brilliant. I only wish that it allowed you to choose any charity. We couldn’t give to FurBabies but we could give to the ASPCA, the national animal non-profit that helps pets (and lots of other reputable non-profits). The site lets you choose what percentage to give to the charity and how much to go into the kid’s personal gift fund. Madelyn chose 75% to charity and 25% to herself. (The site also handles all the transactions which is handy.) Currently Madelyn has raised $156 for the ASPCA and $52 for herself (which she plans on spending on her puppy; Blue “needs” a sweater). It’s a win-win!
In January of this year my daughter, Madelyn, asked if she could get a dog. We have one cat, Wriggler, that no one paid much attention to and was getting old. Why can’t she just love the cat more? My husband wanted to know. But Madelyn wouldn’t let up. Dog. Dog. Dog. That’s all she talked about. Finally I said if she could take care of the cat — feed her every day and help Dad clear out her box, she could get a dog for her 8th birthday. In October. 10 months away. And the rule was she couldn’t miss a feeding.
Welp. She surprised me and did just that. She fed the cat twice a day every day without fail. And a funny thing happened — she and Wriggler bonded like they hadn’t before. Instead of going to me or my husband, that cat snuggled up to Madelyn and started sleeping in her bed. Then this summer, just turning 12, Wriggler got sick. She wasn’t acting herself and soon she couldn’t keep down her food. It was sad to watch and especially sad for Madelyn who had suddenly gotten so close to her. Should I have encouraged this? Was I just setting her up for heartache? When Wriggler died Madelyn made a gravestone for her: “We love you!” she wrote and the whole family signed it. She loved that cat more in the last 6 months than she had in the last 6 years. She wept and wept. It was the first time (outside of the fish) she’d experienced true loss.
And then this weekend we picked up her puppy. Her birthday isn’t for another month, but we knew enough while searching for puppies on the rescue sites that you gotta jump when you find a good one. We brought her home. Madelyn named her Blue (she has one blue eye; one brown). She’s drinking out of the Wriggler’s bowl for now. The puppy’s not replacing Wriggler, but if it wasn’t for Wriggler, Madelyn wouldn’t have earned her. But it’s probably better that she missed Blue’s arrival. She probably would have given this adorable jumpy puppy a good swat!
One thing I no longer am embarrassed to admit now that I am a mom: I am cheap. I refuse to buy bottled water; it doesn’t matter how hot it is outside. Concessions at the movie theater are off-limits (and any other event, actually). And I cringe when I have to pay $1 at a kid’s lemonade stand (even though I know it’s the right thing to do). But one thing I have never been able to stick with is couponing. Even though I have the cheapness gene (inherited from my own mom), what I don’t have is the stamina that it takes to really save enough cash with clipping coupons or taking advantage of all those online reward sites. I have tired but I always give up after only saving 50 cents on a total grocery trip. Deep sigh.
But tons of moms have mastered it, and I am jealous of their savings. I’m sure you’ve seen the reality shows of extreme couponers who stack their grocery carts to the max with products and come out paying $2.12 or something insane. Who are these people I always wonder? I wish I knew how they did it. Then I stumbled upon one. Turns out one of my kids’ babysitters is a frugal shopping pro. Lauren Ragusa of New Rochelle, NY has two little kids of her own and has mastered the art of managing and combining store sales, loyalty cards, coupons, and online rewards programs. She does admit that those reality shows can be misleading (surprise!), but she still can knock off up to 60% from her grocery bill. Amazing isn’t it? And now she’s sharing her secrets in a new e book called Top Secrets From a Frugal Family. (And it’s only $4.99!!)
In the book she tells how she pays next to nothing for baby food, clothes and gear; for example she breaks down exactly how she pays only $2 for 4 bottles of baby formula (and moms, you know how pricey that stuff is!) with a combo of store sales and coupons. And I love her tip of using her town library’s season pass to get in free to a popular Children’s Museum (who knew?). She also has tips on how to save at chain restaurants, movies, and nearly everything else. This book speaks to the cheapskate in me and has put me on a mission to start couponing again! I encourage you to check it out — and to share your cost-saving secrets in the comments below.
This morning a colleague forwarded me this video which I dare you to watch without a box of tissues. The first thing I thought was If it were my daughter, I’d do the same thing. I’d do whatever I could to raise this money.
As her parents describe in the video, 4-year-old Eliza has Sanfilippo Syndrome. It’s a terminal genetic disease. It is degenerative and Eliza’s quality of life will continue to deteriorate as she gets older. She may seem like a normal fun-loving kid today, but she’ll only get worse to the point where she won’t be able to walk, talk, or feed herself and she’ll be in considerable pain. As a parent myself, I can’t think of a worse fate for a child than to lose all that she has gained … and on top of that, to be in pain. And to watch helplessly as a parent. The one hope for this family is a very promising clinical trial this fall that doesn’t have enough funding to continue. And of course if it can’t continue, Eliza can’t get the treatment which could very well save her life. I encourage you to read her story and if you can, also donate to the fund. For so many children with genetic diseases, there is no cure. For Eliza there may actually be one. And if she were my kid, I’d be fighting like hell to make sure she got it. Wouldn’t you?